All eyes on the Africa Cup of Nations

Africa Cup_of_Nations_2012_logoThe 2012 Africa Cup of Nations kicks off today minus a handful of regulars, but with several of the continent's usual suspects vying for glory once again.

Despite three-time defending champions Egypt and the likes of Nigeria, South Africa and Cameroon all failing to qualify for this year's finals, the presence of Ghana, the Ivory Coast and Senegal ensures that the tournament will once again be the focus of attention for millions of football fans around the world. The current Elephants squad is full of star names who ply their trade at some of Europe's leading clubs, but they have not been able to turn that into continental success in recent times with the nation's sole Nations Cup triumph coming 20 years ago.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Ivory Coast are firm bookmakers' favourites to emerge victorious in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, and midfielder Cheik Tiote is determined to see his side live up to that billing.

"We have great players so we have to win something - we have to win this Cup of Nations," said the Newcastle midfielder, who counts players such as Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Yaya and Kolo Toure, Gervinho and Didier Zokora among his international team-mates.

"Every time there is an African tournament people tell us that we are favourites to win, but when you look at our trophy cabinet there is nothing there. Absolutely nothing."

Despite the absence of several leading nations, Chelsea striker Drogba believes his country still have a tough task on their hands to end their long wait to win the event for a second time.

"I think the 2012 Cup of Nations will be very difficult, perhaps even more difficult than previous editions," the two-time African Player of the Year added on www.cafonline.com.

"Our ambition is to improve on two years ago when we were eliminated in the quarter-finals."

Ivory Coast have been drawn in Group B alongside Angola, Burkina Faso and Sudan, who they face in their opening match in Malabo on Sunday.

The tournament kicks off on Saturday with two Group A matches, including co-hosts and debutants Equatorial Guinea facing Libya and Senegal meeting Zambia. In Group C are Tunisia - the last country to win the tournament before Egypt's recent domination - Morocco, Niger and the other co-hosts Gabon.

Meanwhile, Group D is made up of 2010 runners-up Ghana, Mali, Guinea and Botswana.

Highly-fancied Ghana, who look to have striker Asamoah Gyan available again after injury, have been African Nations Cup champions on four occasions but their last success was back in 1982.

However, Black Stars coach Goran Stevanovic is in optimistic mood heading into this year's event, saying on www.bbc.co.uk: "I am sure after the first game Ghana will show the people of the world that we are really really favourites for this tournament.

"Senegal and Ivory Coast are our biggest opponents but in a tournament everybody can surprise."

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